The Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans meet for the sixth time in six seasons on Thursday, and that familiarity creates an intriguing matchup for the NFL’s season opener.
The Texans own two wins in the series, including a 31-24 victory at Arrowhead Stadium last October. But the Chiefs own the two most critical victories, a 30-0 shutout in the 2015 Wildcard Round and a 51-31 win in last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff.
Here’s the key matchups to watch when the two familiar foes reunite in Week 1:
The Legion of Zoom vs. The Flash Mob
The Chiefs have assembled one of the fastest receiver rooms in the NFL with the Legion of Zoom. Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman are a mismatch nightmare for any defense individually, let alone when they are paired with the other speed demons on their own team. The Texans learned a little about this speed advantage for the Chiefs in their two matchups last year, and decided to do their best to emulate it. Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills and Will Fuller make up the Texans’ dollar-store version of the Legion of Zoom, all three with plenty of speed to burn. This game will be a test for the secondary of both teams.
Chiefs DE Frank Clark vs. Texans Offensive Tackles
Clark is a handful for most NFL tackles with his blend of speed and power. He can use a speed rush to get the edge when facing left tackle Laremy Tunsil, and he can incorporate a variety of pass rush moves to keep second-year right tackle Tytus Howard off-balance. If the Texans don’t find a way to slow down Clark, quarterback Deshaun Watson will be in for a long night.
Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. Texans LB Zach Cunningham
The Fresh Prince Edwards-Helaire left an explosive offense at LSU last year and won the starting job on an even more high-powered offense in Kansas City. While a good chunk of Edwards-Helaire’s work will come between the tackles where he can stay low to the ground and bounce off defenders like a bowling ball, the matchup for him that is the most intriguing is when he is running a route covered by Cunningham. Cunningham struggled to match the speed of Damien Williams last season and had issues working through other players to his assignment. Edwards-Helaire doesn’t have the speed of Williams, but his short-area quickness creates space immediately. Look for the Chiefs to exploit this matchup.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid vs. Texans defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver
Weaver officially took the reigns from Romeo Crennel in the off-season, with Crennel moving to an assistant head-coaching role. Weaver has openly stated that his plan is to be more exotic on third down and disguise coverages and blitzes better. His plan gets put to an early test against one of the best offensive minds in the game. Reid uses motion and bunch formations to simplify the defensive scheme or force it to show its hand sooner to quarterback Patrick Mahomes. This chess match definitely leans in the favor of Reid and the Chiefs, but it will be interesting to see what Weaver can showcase in his first game as the new defensive coordinator.
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes vs. Texans QB Deshaun Watson
Two young, highly paid quarterbacks in the prime of their careers, one fresh off a Super Bowl MVP season and the other no stranger to adversity. Both games between these two players last year were full of edge-of-your-seat excitement and mind-blowing plays. This is just another chapter in what is shaping up to be a great rivalry.